A Common Sense Look at Airport Encroachment

Tehachapi Airport2Guest Commentary: Airport compatibility and seat belts – Most all auto accidents (95 percent) are caused by driver error. Nevertheless and regardless of who is at fault, the State of California requires that you always wear your seat belt. If you choose not to wear your seat belt, you get stopped by the police, you should expect to pay a $200 fine. Wearing your seat belt is the law because statistics show that you really don’t know when an accident may happen and who may be at fault. Because of those unknowns, State intervention was needed to protect life and limb. Seat belts do save lives.

As stated by the [Tehachapi] city council in the Feb. 19 “Motel Appeal Hearing,” “most airplane accidents are pilot error.” The audience heard this statement bandied back and forth between the Mayor and three other Council members. This repeated point somehow justified their decision to deny the appeal and approve the construction of a new motel in Capital Hills.

Ironically, airplanes and cars are very similar. The reason the state provides specific guidance on wearing your seat belt is exactly the same reason they provide input on constructing certain buildings and businesses in specific locations around an airport; you never know when an accident will happen. Statistically, most car accidents happen within three miles of your house.

The factual data shows that most airplane accidents happen within 4000 feet of an airport runway. This knowledge is why the state provides very specific guidelines regarding development in or around airport runway environments. They also define where the airport “safety zones” are located and why they are there. Although the city narrowly avoids the FAA-designated “runway protection zones,” they have ignored California’s mandate not to build high-density buildings (motels for one) in incompatible areas. Are most
airplane accidents “pilot error” or does it even matter? An accident is an accident and the new motel and hospital are approximately 4000 feet from the runway and beneath the legal and common departure route for the airport. Fact is fact, yet the City Council discredited and ignored it.

Capital Hills lies in an area that is exposed to airplane traffic. This location holds a higher statistical risk of seeing an airplane accident than most other locations in Tehachapi. The state is very clear on what is required for this area just like a seat belt is required when you drive your car. If you are not afraid of being thrown through your windshield and
facing a fine for not wearing your seat belt, stop wearing it and be prepared for the consequences. Otherwise, keep safety in mind and follow the state guidelines and law. We all know this simple task, in both cases, will save lives.

When the [Tehachapi (CA)] Mayor and City Council say statistical facts are nothing more than “scare tactics,” one assumes the state road signs that say, “Click it or Ticket” are scare tactics, too. Our society strives to protect its citizens from known harm that is calculated as, “when it will happen” and not, “if it will happen.” Statistically, an airplane accident will happen in Capital Hills and one only hopes they or their loved ones are not registered at the motel or confined to a hospital bed when it does. Tell the City of Tehachapi to follow the state guidelines and that Capital Hills is not the place to build new motels and hospitals.

Public safety is crucial when evaluating projects of this nature and unfortunately this community has been asked to fit a square peg in a round hole. Each of us must tell City Hall to stop the incompatible development from continuing in Capital Hills and protect those who expect the city to look out for their well being. Remember, the airport has been here for 75 years but the motel and hospital are new to the neighborhood. Even though a project is started, it can be changed and made safe and compatible. However, a bad decision will haunt our community for generations.

KEN HETGE is a commercial pilot and has flown from the Tehachapi Airport since 1990, has a degree in Aviation Management, and owns an aircraft rental
and maintenance business at Tehachapi Airport.


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